The wisdom of Wrath of Gnon.

Hat tip to Vox Day. I am copying a fair amount of this because Wrath of Gnon may take it down.

Before we start, consider your climate and what you can grow. It is no good doing mixed agriculture in central Otago: the rain you get is snow, and if you don’t have irrigation you can’t grow anything.

You want a hands-off council and government. Our author is in Texas, where you can do more with the land than you can in NZ. We have too many green activists.

Read the original. I am making notes.

In this text I intend to set out the most bare-bone basic premises for how to start a good town, what is needed to build something anti-fragile and sustainable under the above mentioned scenario.

I would suggest that this means you keep houses small and outbuildings utilitarian. It also means shared cars, and shared tractors and other powered equipment.

You want land most farmers don’t want. You want hills, steep slopes, and intensive farming. To give you an idea, the average dairy farm in NZ is 500 to 1000 hectares, and the colder it is the larger the farm. Our dry stock “stations” measure in the square kilometers.

To create a human scaled town we first establish what is a good size, and this is simply one third of a square kilometer, or 82 acres, or 0.13 square miles. 80 acres was the upper limit for a good family farm in medieval England, and it is still the size at which the most flexible and efficient farms run, both modern and more old fashioned Amish family farms. It allows a town where no point can’t be reached on foot in 15 minutes, and it allows comfortable living for a population of 3000, which was considered the ideal size in medieval Europe: the upper limit of efficiency and comfort, productivity and harmony: more and you get crowded, less and you risk being without some important trades and activities. Even though the premise talks about a town of 600, we plan three centuries ahead for a maximum population of ca. 3000.

A good town (the urban) is clearly defined and set apart from the countryside (the rural). The suburban has no place here. Hence the town needs to be as clearly marked out and defined as the individual family lots will be: to here, but no further. For this purpose we will mark out land to be used as a wall, raised embankment, hedge, fence, moat, canal, etc. Some sort of edge which is not routinely nor distractedly crossed.

As for shape, I recommend a somewhat irregularly oval shape, near round in one extreme, or rice grain shaped in the other extreme, for the simple reason that the best towns and cities seems to be oval to some degree5. As far as possible the existing topography should be kept or even enhanced. Perfectly flat land is only popular with boring developers. So: no bulldozing allowed. Existing trees should be left and existing paths should be left in place (even when slightly inconvenient). New paths and streets should follow the contours of the land. Anything historic (an old campsite, an ancient grave or remains of an old farmstead) should be kept and protected and venerated.

You want the urban to include gardens. Either allotments outside the town, or in the back yard. You need to have minimal distance between the vegetables and the kitchen.

Since the premise is Texas, and undeveloped land, I am imagining land that is more or less parched, but with short and intense annual rains that risk flooding the entire area. The town will be in a perpetual state of drought and need to be prepared for flash floods6. Hence cisterns, reservoirs, water harvesting will be vital, and whatever gets built, roofs will harvest water into private cisterns or ponds, and all streets will direct stormwater to overflow-proofed cisterns. An area the size of two or three football pitches outside the town will be devoted to flood protection and temporary storage of water. During most the year this land will be dry and a perfect spot for sports, barbecues, festivals, playgrounds, fairs and markets.

This arrangement should make the town self-sustainable in household water at least. Pumping groundwater should not be an option, it is simply not sustainable in an arid/semi-desert environment and Texans already know how to build and manage water harvesting infrastructure. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and spend tons of resources on piping in distant water.

In New Zealand there are droughts and floods — often the drought ends in a flood. You will need forestry on the hills to mitigate the floods. You do not want to be next to the river. You will need, per household, around 60 000 litres of water. In NZ that is two standard water tanks per house, and a good filtration system between the rainwater and the house. Ideally, you use composting toilets (the tiny house movement has got these working) but with our regulations, I would expect the need for a mini sewage plant for the town.

I would add this: deep gutters. All roads and paths are six inches below the surrounding soil, ideally made of gravel with drainage in them, and all houses raised above the land. This helps with cooling.

There will be an urge to build each home optimized for air conditioning. Don’t. All buildings must be useful and livable even with the power cut. Hence, natural ventilation, strategically designed windows that open, etc. is necessary. …
Once you remove the need for heating, cooling and transport from a town’s energy needs, you are left with something that will easily run on limited solar (and the attached batteries) in case of a grid failure. This will also save the town and its people large amounts of money even in the near future.

In the South Island you need ventilation for the summer, and wood burning stoves for the winter. That is more sustainable than heat pumps and airconditioning. If you build in the hills, and you should, consider hydroelectric generation from dams. In addition, consider wind generation. Solar cells lose efficiency in winter. In the North Island the issue is much more summer: one word. Verandah.

Run a covered porch around each house. We stole this idea from the British Raj.

For food, the town should not spare any effort to be self-sustainable. Food items are also a prime export product, especially high-end refined items (exporting raw materials/food isn’t a good use of resources). It provides jobs and income and is a sure way to draw tourists. For this purpose there will be no lawns, but plenty of gardens, orchards, street side herbs, roof top apiaries and flowers to feed the bees that inhabit them. The rural area (the “market garden zone”) surrounding the town out to a radius of one mile should be devoted more or less entirely to food production in some form, and it should be farmed primarily by the people living in town on a professional or hobby level (either one is fine: create the best allotment system in Texas!). The second belt, is the farm zone. Here I would recommend, if not enough farmers could be found, to offer the land at good prices to Amish families to farm. 800 acres is enough for 10 farms. They also have the expertise to run a farm in any sort of energy crises. The rule of thumb is that only people who live directly off the land should live in the rural area (the “farm zone”).

You don’t want tourists. They are woke. You do want gardens. We don’t have Amish. We do have organic farmers, who work on 10 to 30 hectare lots. That would be your first circle around the town. Outside that, you want pastoral farming. NZ is good at that.

Obviously the town will need to generate a working income, so lots will be sold to the highest bidder, but you will also want to reserve lots for the people who matter to the town itself. I.e., you need things like a parish house, a dentist (save an excellent spot in the town center to offer at low cost to whomever decides to practice dentistry there), a schoolmaster, a clinic, a grocery store (at least) etc. Your first and most obvious potential clientele will be the builders, plasterers, masons, well drillers, cistern makers, ditch diggers, hod carriers, carpenters, plumbers, glaziers, electricians, wifi technicians, who are actually building the town, so you will want to offer them a chance to live there, affordable, within their means. Let the people who contribute and have skin in the game have a first go at acquiring land. The surveyor who surveys his own home will work twice as accurately, the carpenter who builds for himself will work twice as hard.

You also want craftsmen and small business owners to relocate to the town and they will need workers. All buildings must be owner occupied. You do not want a town of renters or absent landlords. Set lots aside to develop “guest houses”, inns, small hotels or rentable properties for short or long-term visitors and guests. Reserve the most valuable street front lots to people who want to run stores, eateries and other businesses.

I’m a digital nomad. I work by distance: not by choice but by regulation. What I need is fast internet. And quietness.

In New Zealand, ensure that there is both a pub and decent coffee shop. Reserve land for churches, and attached church schools.

Keep the state at arm’s length. Do not let them build a primary school, a hospital, or a pension office.

Instead, encourage teenagers to apprentice themselves to older men and women for a year before getting qualifications. You may need outreach hostels in cities for that purpose.

As I said before, read the whole thing. The final extract is important: build on the crap sites first.

Don’t develop the best lots and the best locations first. Save them for later. In the meantime, “pop-up” stores and light movable homes and buildings, simple stick frames place holders, can be placed on the prime lots, to be replaced by more permanent constructions as needs and wishes becomes apparent. Here’s a chance to build the funky saloons, the charming post office, the rows and rows of shops and cafes that makes a town a fun place to visit without committing for entire generations. If they do great, make them permanent, if not, move them out, replace them, experiment.

The same thing applies for street furniture: fountains, benches, water troughs, hitching posts etc. Build fast and simple place holders, and see which ones are used and loved: make them permanent. The ones that no one cares about, remove or change or replace. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Also remember the golden rule of place making: when building anything, build on the least attractive part and improve it while keeping the views of the more beautiful parts intact.

If you can’t do this, get away from crowds.

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Amy
Amy
1 month ago

Tourists pay the property tax, so yes – you need tourists for the folding green stuff. Not many. Just a few. Properly managed, they come for bed & breakfasts and whatever specialty agricultural items you’ve produced. (My own rather large town is known for a silly amount of craft breweries, large and small). You are looking for folks our age and about 10 years to each side, not partiers. If you managed to add some specialty crafts as well (a world-renowned luthier, a glassblower’s guild, …) you’d get that very fine set of quasi tourists too. One wants fresh air or things get Odd.

Rain is very important, oh yes. But add a few more permaculture techniques and a bit of regenerative agriculture (grazing beasties, stewarded) to soften the land and make it more porous, starting with the runoff fields and you can make the most of what comes.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

An interesting idea, but I’d be surprised to see it happen.

Don’t forget you need regular rain and nearby trees. Up until modern times, wood rights were HUGE.
He is thinking of East Texas, not west Texas!